Broadway Cabaret Festival
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 23, 2005
Here's a quick report on Broadway Originals!, the two-hour concert/revue that capped the first annual Broadway Cabaret Festival at Town Hall. 21 performers re-created moments from Broadway musicals of the last 40-some years. The lineup included some folks we've not seen on stage in a very long time (people that I've never seen on stage at all): Pat Suzuki, James Randolph, Sarah Rice, Walter Willison, and Mary Louise; some more familiar faces: the Callaway sisters (Liz and Ann Hampton), Chuck Cooper, Melissa Errico, Evan Pappas, Jack Noseworthy, Rachel York, and Cady Huffman; and some well-known veteran performers, some of whom we don't associate so much with the musical theatre: Austin Pendleton, Lee Roy Reams, Karen Akers, Jim Walton, Alice Playten, Penny Fuller, Priscilla Lopez, and Randy Graff.
Host Scott Siegel started things off by explaining the ground rules of the event: everything here was performed on Broadway by these stars, who either introduced these songs or, in two cases, were original cast members of a Broadway revival (for the record: James Randolph played Sky Masterson in the 1976 all-black revival of Guys and Dolls and Mary Louise played Irene Molloy in the 1975 Hello, Dolly! starring Pearl Bailey).
As you can probably tell from the lineup, most of these folks played supporting roles in their shows, but many of them proved why their work was memorable and worth seeing once again. Topping the list was certainly Karen Akers, spinning Maury Yeston's "My Husband Makes Movies" from Nine in her incomparable style, opening windows into the soul of her character (Luisa, wife of Fellini-esque director Guido Contini) with spectacular economy and depth in the space of a four-minute song. I was also thrilled to see Priscilla Lopez return to her signature song from A Chorus Line, "Nothing," which she does better than anybody I've ever seen do it; ditto Penny Fuller, conjuring her Eve Harrington from Applause in "One Halloween"; Evan Pappas, bringing back a happy memory (for me, anyway) from My Favorite Year with "Blue Lights, Pink Lights"; and Rachel York, who seemed as lithesome and sexy as ever in "Lost and Found" from City of Angels.
Randy Graff chose to perform one of her lesser-known numbers, "The Next Best Thing to Love" from the musical about Edward Kleban, A Class Act; that's precisely what she was (always is, I'd say). Austin Pendleton, who does just about everything in the theatre these days except musicals, stepped back into the shoes of Motel Kamzoil in Fiddler on the Roof, a role he originated more than 40 years ago, and delivered a delightful "Miracle of Miracles." Sarah Rice gave us a letter- and note-perfect "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" from Sweeney Todd, and Alice Playten performed the heck out of "Nobody Steps on Kaffritz," the unpleasant show-stopper that brought her great acclaim in Henry, Sweet Henry in 1967.
Cooper, Errico, Noseworthy, and Huffman did numbers from shows less than ten years old: not so necessary or exciting, in my book (though Huffman and Cooper got big, welcoming ovations recreating roles that won each of them a Tony Award). Randolph, who has a grand, silky voice, fumbled through "Luck be a Lady" and Suzuki, looking great at 70 or thereabouts, misstepped frequently during "I Enjoy Being a Girl"—both made game recoveries, but were disappointing, nonetheless. Willison ("I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You" from Two by Two), Walton ("Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along—though not the version he actually introduced), Louise ("Ribbons Down My Back" from Dolly!), and Liz Callaway ("The Story Goes On" from Baby) rounded out the program. Only Ann Hampton Callaway's number—"Blues in the Night," which she performed in Swing (but certainly did not introduce; she wasn't even the first to do the number in a Broadway show)—seemed out of place, belonging more to the world of cabaret than to Broadway.
Stopping the show—and making at least this audience member wish for much, much more—was the ageless and versatile Lee Roy Reams, who clowned, hoofed, and sang his way through a delicious medley of songs he introduced, "She's No Longer a Gypsy" (Applause), "Lorelei" (Lorelei), and "Lullaby of Broadway" (42nd Street). Reams needs someone to produce him in a one-man autobiographical show, in which he would, I have no doubt, give Stritch, Rivera, Channing, et al some major competition.
Broadway Originals!, arguably somewhat deficient in authentic star power, was nevertheless a lot of fun: the half-dozen or so really classic performances included here were a thrill to see brought back to life by their original actors. Siegel, who in addition to hosting the show produced and wrote it, along with the other festivities at this weekend-long Broadway Cabaret Festival, clearly loves the songs of Broadway and his energy in boosting them in concerts like this one is, apparently boundless. Musical theatre buffs—who were out in force at this show—owe him their gratitude for carrying the torch.